Agriculture in the World

To go beyond the distorted view presented by statistical averages about world agriculture requires dividing the world into at least three groups; the "haves" or "First World," for whom food security is not an issue, the "have nots" or "Third World," who live on less than $1 a day, and the large group of "in-betweens" or "Second World."

The First World consists of approximately 1 billion people who are largely removed from their agricultural roots, take a plentiful and inexpensive food supply for granted, and are increasingly conscious of environmental issues. For them, international aid and development are low priorities. In the Third World, another billion people, mainly rural and chronically malnourished, are living in countries where the free market economic model does not work. This group qualifies most for humanitarian assistance but they need much more than that. They need to learn better farming practices to increase yields while decreasing soil erosion and desertification. In the Second World, 4 billion people live in countries where the state and market economy generally do not function well, but there is a widespread desire to do better. Doing better requires assistance in developing markets, protection of distribution, implementation of good agricultural practices, and application of biotechnology (3).

More than half of the "have nots" are found in Asia and the Pacific (60%) and 24% are found in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the proportion of the population that is undernourished is very different in the two regions. In sub-Saharan Africa one third of the population is undernourished, while one sixth is undernourished in Asia and the Pacific, and one tenth in Latin America, the Caribbean, the Near East, and North Africa. The incidence of undernourishment has declined from 28% of the population of the world in 1980 to 17% in 2000. Most of the improvement has been in Asia and the Pacific, which halved their incidence of undernourishment. Undernourishment in other areas of the world has only slightly improved or remained stagnant during the same time period. As of late 2003, food emergencies exist in nearly 40 countries, more than half in Africa, eight in Asia, five in Latin America, and two in Europe. In many of these countries, food shortages are compounded by the impact of HIVAIDS on food production, transport, distribution, and utilization (4).

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